Nicknames: The Ultimate Guide
Nicknames and diminutives are one of the most fun aspects of naming. They can be playful and cute, cool and clever, and they have a tendency to take on a life of their own that’s impossible to predict.
Yep, as with most things in parenting, we may start off with an idea of which nicknames children will (or won’t) use — but they’ll often surprise us.
Maybe you want to give your child a nickname-rich name, so they can choose whether to be Penny, Nell, or the full Penelope. Or maybe you know the nickname you want, and are weighing up which long form (if any) to put on the birth certificate: should he be Maxwell, Maximus, or simply Max?
And if shortened names aren’t your style, try our list of the best nickname-proof names.
Note: here we use “nickname” to mean short forms, like Ben and Benny, as well as alternative names that are sometimes used instead of a person’s real name, like Sonny.
If you like to keep the options open, some names have abundant nickname options, both well-known and with scope for more creativity. For example, Elizabeth has familiar Liz and Beth, vintage Betty and Bess, fresh Ellie and Libby, and even more unusual nicknames like Zibby.
Multi-nicknamed names are usually long and often classics, with centuries of wearers coming up with fresh short forms — which was especially important back when the pool of given names was much smaller.
How many nicknames can you think of for these names?
These names are so well-used in their own right that you may not even know they started out as nicknames. (I had to double-check a few myself!) Knowledge is power: they could work well as alternative honor names, such as Molly in honor of Grandma Mary.
There’s an argument for skipping the formalities and putting the nickname on on their birth certificate — for example, if you know you’re only ever going to call your child Archie, and you have no interest in Archer, Archibald or any other long form.
Nicknames as first names are more common in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, where as well as Archie, Charlie, Evie and Millie are all in the Top 100 baby names. But American parents are also coming to embrace this style. Here are some nicknames that are popular in their own right.
Old-fashioned nicknames are part of the wider trend for vintage names. They were popular about a hundred years ago, and now sound charming to today’s parents. For more inspiration, read our lists of vintage nicknames for girls and vintage boy nicknames.
Each generation of parents has its own favorite androgynous nicknames. A century ago, Tommie and Willie were popular for both girls and boys. Midcentury tastes leaned towards Bobby and Bobbie, Terry and Teri, and Chris.
Today’s top unisex nicknames are spunky and fresh on both sexes. They take the focus away from gender, and can be a convenient solution to an honor name. Baby Frankie could be a nod to a Frances, or baby Persephone, known as Pip, to a Philip.
These nicknames follow some of the hottest name trends, like names ending in O for both genders, and dynamic words like Dash, as well as perennially cool initial names. Most of the following have risen in popularity in recent years.
These retro nicknames aren’t short for anything. They can be tough, grandiose, fun, and affectionate, and they can also be used as names in their own right. Celebrity adopters of this style include Tom (of McFly fame) and Giovanna Fletcher, whose first two sons are Buzz and Buddy.
Popular Nicknames for Unusual Names
A rare full name with a familiar nickname lets your child stand out or blend in, as it suits them. Some examples:
Ace for Horatio
Addie for Ariadne
Annie for Anemone
Ben for Bernard
Callie for Callahan
Cory for Corrigan
Edie for Benedicta
Ellie for Ellington
Freddie for Wilfred
Joe for Joachim
Mack for Malachi
Nate for Ignatius
Nell for Fenella
Romy for Andromeda
Tim for Septimus
Ty for Tiberius
Rare Nicknames for Popular Names
The flipside to this is a well-known, maybe classic, name with a playful nickname that’s not what people will expect. The advantage of this is that your kid can always
Bix for Beatrix
Coby for Jacob
Cole for Nicholas
Kitto for Christopher
Mac for Malcolm
Nora for Eleanor
Posy for Josephine
Reese for Theresa
Thor for Theodore
Tizzy for Elizabeth
Wilkie for William
Via for Olivia
Different languages and cultures can be a great place to find nicknames that break from the norm, especially if you have heritage there. For example, Alexander may be Alex to most people, but Sandro to his Italian grandparents.
It’s impossible to do justice to the full range, but here are a few international short forms of names you may recognize.
Nicknames with repeating sounds are fun and playful, but with a dash of glamor: think Zsa Zsa Gabór or Gigi Hadid. They are more common for girls, although there are options for boys too. Here are some that are great short forms, and occasionally make it onto birth certificates too.
Wild and Wonderful Nicknames
These are the most fun nicknames of them all: they’re hard to say without smiling, or at least wondering how cool a child has to be to pull these off. There are even more daring options in our lists of crazy nicknames for girls and for boys.
Is anyone using these? Some were in vogue decades ago, others were common centuries ago and survive in surnames, but they’ve pretty much slipped out of use. Any takers to revive them?
Good luck with your nickname journey, whether you’re planning them carefully or leaving them to chance!